Can You Really be Addicted to Fame?

By Dufflyn Lammers 09/09/16

“There’s this sense of ‘not good enough.’ It’s all driven by advertising and commercials telling us that we need to look like this and take that medication, and that we need to have achieved our own Twitter following…and it’s out of control.”

Can You Really be Addicted to Fame?
Love the camera.

Is it possible to be addicted to fame? As it turns out, yes, and you can get treatment for it—what may surprise you is that you don’t have to be a mega-star to be affected by it. 

I spoke with Dr. Reef Karim, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist, who started a treatment program at his personal transformation center, Lumion Centers (formerly The Control Center), which is dedicated to helping people addicted to fame. He describes the condition like this: 

"Fame Addiction is a behavioral condition centered on the desperate need to be seen [in order] to self-soothe. People suffering from difficulties with fame are bored, impulsive, anxious, unfulfilled, and all share the same ultimate fear: being invisible. They are looking for something on the outside to define them on the inside.” 

The need for something outside of oneself to "fix" oneself will no doubt sound familiar to any person in recovery from addiction. But is that all it takes for something to qualify as an addiction? 

Dr. Donna Rockwell, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist with a celebrity mental health practice in New York City. Rockwell specializes in fame and celebrity psychology. In her paper “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame,” published in the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, she divided the fame experience into four phases: Love/Hate, Addiction, Acceptance, and Adaptation. 

When asked if she believes that some people enter the "addiction" phase of fame and never move forward from there, she responded with an emphatic, “Why yes I do. What happens is that people get addicted to the neurological responses to being recognized, lauded and applauded. It’s a neurological response to an environmental situation.” 

So there is a chemical, biological component wherein the fame addict is compelled to seek the "drug of choice" by repeating the behavior. Not only that, but in the same way that, say for example, a heroin addict needs more and more of the drug to get high, the same is true of the fame addict. 

“I think we see that in the Internet blood fest with high-end celebrities who are using it to continually promote their brand,” Dr. Rockwell contends. “Even the notion of the star themselves or their camp notifying the paparazzi of where they are going to be. And I’m not speaking of everyone, but individually, the situation can be created where they continue to feed that need for recognition. There’s this underlying impetus to get more and more more famous, more followers, more likes—it’s the 'more' that creates the addiction cycle.” 

But how is fame addiction defined, and how do you know if you have it? Dr. Karim says he has come up with a screener. These are some of the characteristics to look for: 

Needing constant validation from family and friends

Underlying anxiety or mood instability

Difficulties with impulse control

Poor self esteem

Identity Crisis

Being overly opportunistic with new and current relationships (evaluating usefulness)

Dr. Rockwell’s study also revealed that of the fifteen famous people she interviewed, not one would give up their fame, regardless of negative consequences to both themselves and their families. With all the perks, from court-side seats to the best medical treatment, it’s not so shocking—until you look at exactly how negative the effects can be. 

“It becomes too valuable a commodity to even entertain to trade back. But all of these eyes that are staring at them are actually objectifying them, and the person ends up getting used and objectified by a lot of the people in their lives, so they develop this mistrust as well. They come to view the world that way. And they create a personality split between their authentic self and their celebrity self—the celebrity self becomes a mask through which they relate to people. And the space of living out the authentic self becomes smaller and smaller. The pressures now, with everyone with a camera, comments on Twitter, and the democratization of gossip, it makes a celebrity even more reticent to step out into the world embodying their authentic self.” 

Many celebrities lose their sense of identity behind this mask that they use to protect themselves. Another hallmark of addiction—the coping mechanism gone awry—becomes deadly. By now, the world is painfully aware that addiction kills. But does fame addiction? 

“I have not seen a death due to only fame addiction,” Dr. Karim said. “I've seen someone give up on life because of an unfortunate series of events including pills, alcohol, a poor ability to cope and some stressors related to fame.” 

Rockwell, however, said she believes fame kills, pointing out the tragedy of Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson. “And look at Whitney Houston and look at her daughter. Why? Because of fame. Because they don’t listen to anyone and there are sycophants everywhere and nobody tells famous people the truth.” 

Rockwell agreed that fame can also contribute to the likelihood of developing more than one addiction. “I think it does just because temptations are just so… everything is so accessible. One of the people in my study was Danny Bonaduce, the child star from The Partridge Family, who said to use his name wherever I need to. He said he’d been addicted to every substance known to mankind, and the most addictive is fame.” 

If it still sounds like a quality problem for a relatively small portion of the population, consider this quote from filmmaker John Waters, broadcast on National Public Radio on August 15, 2006: “Most everybody secretly imagines themselves in show business and everyday on their way to work, they’re a little bit depressed because they’re not ... People are sad they’re not famous in America.” 

Dr. Rockwell agrees that we are all affected by the culture of fame. “There’s this sense of ‘not good enough.’ It’s all driven by advertising and commercials telling us that we need to look like this and take that medication, and that we need to have achieved our own Twitter following…and it’s out of control.” 

Dr. Karim echoed much the same sentiment. “What seems like a ‘celebrity’ disorder is actually a universal problem that's growing every day with technological advancements, social media, reality television and our overall societal disposition towards validation. It's not just about celebrities or wannabe celebrities. Regular people with social media interests, YouTubers, reality television participants and fans are coming to my office for help.”  

Both Rockwell and Karim agree that fame addiction is treatable. 

Karim told me, “At Lumion, we have a treatment philosophy for fame addiction based on experience, research, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, creativity and spirituality. We work on an individual's psychological limitations, exposure therapy, impression management, identity formation, self worth, attachment, interpersonal connection and resilience, among other things.”

Rockwell, also a mindfulness teacher, had this to say: “I find that the celebrities who fare best decide to use their fame to make the world a better place, so it isn't only personal philanthropy, but using the currency of fame by embracing and modeling a deeper calling of altruism, reaching out to improve the lives of others. Neurologically, that will stimulate different parts of that celebrity’s brain in the pre-frontal cortex, and those sorts of decisions re-wire the brain. Then the positive feedback loop is just really beautiful.” 

Dufflyn Lammers is an International Recovery Coach, writer and actor. She blogs at and 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
D. Lammers Photo.jpg

Dufflyn Lammers (CPC, CAI, CRS) is a writer, an actor and a recovery coach. She is also the European Director of Services at Connections In Recovery, a consulting company that does treatment strategy and supportive services for addiction and mental health. In her international coaching practice she specializes in Codependency and Sex and Love Addiction. She has published in The L.A Times, Adelaide, Santa Fe Writers Project, Iowa Woman, and more. Her essay "Tinder in Paris" won a Silver Medal in the Love Story category for the Twelfth Annual Solas Awards, 2018. Lammers co-edited the spoken word anthology Chorus with Saul Williams, 2014 (Simon & Schuster). Lammers has appeared on RUSSELL SIMMONS DEF POETRY JAM (HBO), CRIMINAL MINDS (CBS), ENTOURAGE (HBO), and in BELLY from Artisan Films. Her one woman show DISCOVERED was a 2017 Duende Distinction Award nominee in its debut at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Lammers has worked with the Los Angeles Police Department and with At-Risk Youth in schools and community centers to facilitate recovery in traumatized and undeserved populations. She presents workshops on resilience, identity and attachment at treatment centers and conferences internationally. Her workshops use improv games and creative writing to teach emotional intelligence, communication skills, and recovery skills through the power of play. Originally from Palo Alto, California, she lives in Paris, France. She is now at work on a memoir. Her personal website is: Find Dufflyn on Twitter and Instagram.